07/06/2011 16:11:17

Words by tcsh

Team members head to the Alps, courtesy of Berghaus

Staff members Mick and Helen have just returned from a 3 day alpine climbing trip organised by Berghaus. They joined a group of 6 others from outdoor shops around the UK and a representative from Berghaus, to get a bit of a alpine ‘quick fix’ and  get a feel for the environment that Berghaus Extrem Gear is designed to cope with.


The conditions were far from ideal however, with heavy snow showers, white out conditions and strong winds.  These combined with the altitude made for a testing time for both the kit and the people wearing it.  The first day was a real shock to the system, going from Chamonix in the valley (at an altitude of about 1000m) up to the Aiguille du Midi (around 3800m) via the telepherique.  Mick and Helen were in different teams; Mick’s group, with Guide Olly from Mountain Tracks, headed from the Midi Station, down the steep arete and across the snow covered Valle Blanche to tackle Pointe Lachenal.  Helens group, with French Guide Remy, went for the Chere Couloir (D+) on Mont Blanc Du Tacul.  Both teams were beaten back however due to the extreme conditions, with Mick’s group only getting half way up the first ice pitch on Pointe Lachenal.  Helen’s team didn’t even attempt the Chere Couloir, as the guide deemed the avalanche risk to be too high with all the fresh snow, and they ended up heading back across the Vallee Blanche, in white out conditions, back to the Cosmiques mountain Hut.

The afternoon, once back at the Refuge du Cosmiques and after a spot of lunch, was spent doing some alpine training with crevasse rescues, ice axe belays, rope techniques and glacier travel all being covered.  It was also the only point of the trip that the sun decided to make an appearance.

After spending a rather unpleasant night in the Cosmiques hut (unpleasant due to the altitude of 3613m, not the hospitality which was brilliant) 3 groups set off early to battle the Cosmiques Arete in full on winter conditions.  Another group, which unfortunately included Helen, was forced to retreat from the mountain back to Chamonix as they were suffering the effects of altitude sickness and were unable to carry on.  Even those in the Cosmiques groups were all feeling a little fragile and out of breath. 

The traverse of the Cosmiques ridge (AD) was made much more challenging by the weather and deep snow.  It was commented by one of the guides that it was probably the most fresh snow they’d seen on the route in all the times they been on it it (which he assured us was quite a few times).  The temperatures were low, the cloud was down and the wind was up too, giving the whole ridge a distinctly ‘Scottish Winter’ feel.

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The ridge itself had a few little technical sections, plus a tricky down-climb or two and an abseil/lower off about half way along.  The crux wall (a flat section of rock bisected by a diagonal crack, about 3 quarters of the way into the route) proved less fearsome than expected. Overall though the route was fairly straightforward and thoroughly enjoyable, even in the mist and freezing winds.   The only downside was the lack of views and any feeling of exposure, which would have made the day all the more exciting.

Most of the remainder of the trip was spent sports climbing, recuperating and refuelling (and at one point inhaling a blast of pepper spray in Chamonix town centre(??!!)) before a long, tiring journey back to the UK.

Helen and Mick would like to thank all at Berghaus, and particularly, Sarah Breddy for making us all feel so welcome.  Also our guides at Mountain Tracks, Olly Allen, Matt Dickinson, Remy Lecluse and Tina de Batiste, who looked after everyone so well.  They’d also like to thank all those on the course, Rich, Ben, Angus, Craig, Steve and Katie – a great bunch all round.